zuihitsu.org

Most Fall Short

From Falconer, Douglas S. 1992. “Early Selection Experiments”, in Annual Review of Genetics, Vol. 26, No. 1, December 1992, pp. 1–16—

The question at issue was whether selection applied to a continuously varying character could produce large and permanent differences comparable to those between species, as Darwin thought it could. The reason for thinking it could not do so originated in Galton's work, published in papers from 18771 […] and in his book Natural Inheritance2 in 1889. He studied human stature and several other continuously varying characters, and found that the offspring of extreme parents were less extreme than their parents; the offspring exhibited a "regression to the mean." (The fact of regression must have been known to observers of human excellence for a very long time, because it is clearly stated in Homer's Odyssey3. Odysseus' son Telemachus is lamenting his weakness compared with the godlike strength and courage of his father; Athene, in the guise of Mentor the trusted retainer, says to him: "Few are the sons who attain their father's stature: and very few surpass them. Most fall short in merit.")

  1. Provine, William B. 1971. The Origins of Theoretical Population Genetics, University Of Chicago Press, Chicago.

  2. Galton, Francis. 1889. Natural Inheritance, Macmillan, London.

  3. The Odyssey of Homer, translated by T. E. Shaw, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1940, p. 32.